The modern skeptic needs to be well armed to deal with the array of woo being spewed these days.  Biblical criticism is pretty much a solved game but the new-agers can toss out faux-facts faster than you can say, “Bullshit!”

One flavour making the rounds here recently has been the junk science of Terrence McKenna.  An incredibly articulate ethnobotanist of the late 20th century, he was able to public several books that garnered the attention of aging hippies and which seem to have renewed their popularity with contemporary new agers.  As a self-described psychonaut, his writing mostly revolved around his ever more desperate attempts to instill perceived empirical value to the observations he made of his own consciousness while higher than a kite.

His timewave zero and novelty theories tied into eschatological prognostications for 2012 – a prophecy failure that his devotees overlook as quickly as the adherents of Benny Hinn overlook his.  Perhaps the most entertaining of his drug-addled ramblings was his ‘Stoned Ape’ conjecture.

In his Stoned Ape conjecture, McKenna tried to convince himself that use of magic mushrooms was the catalyst that sprung homo-sapiens into existence from homo-erectus.  He starts by assuming that the magnificent shrooms appeared on the African savanna 100,000 years ago and made their way into the homo-erectus diet – both assumptions being supported by zero evidence.  He then misrepresents a scientific study about visual perception to suggest that use of these mushrooms increased visual acuity in our early ancestors – thereby making them better hunters.

Based on his first two unfounded assumptions and an outright fabrication he then jumps to the conclusion that the results performed a miraculous one-time instance of Lamarckian inheritance, altering the offspring of psilocybin-gobbling hominids enough to speciate them from surrounding populations of homo-erectus.  It just goes on and on, and he actually managed get published for it in 1992 - Food of the Gods.

I feel this load of malarkey is worth our attention, as skeptics, so we can be better prepared to counter the ridiculous claims of McKennites that we may encounter.  I know there is one with us lately and felt he might like to put his thoughts on display here for all of us to observe the workings of such a mind.

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It has been atleast 30 years since my last classes in anthopology. Sadly at that time we spent very little time on the cultural side.

From the readings I have had since, there seems to be an indication that the 'eating habits' of our ancesters were varied and opportunist. Sadly many materials that might have been part of the human 'kitchen viddles', might be lost to other fungi and small animal grazing of remains, and not survived the march of time. I see no reason to suggest that 'fungi' would not be part of the diet, but since little nutrition would be available from this source, meats and other vegetable sources might be chosen over fungi, with less risk of a toxic reaction.

I would expect that our ancesters could have a greater understanding of 'risk' from the environment, but it would be based upon experience/cultural memory. The process of trial & error to determine toxicity from fungi, might feed into ritual uses, to control exposure, and deepen the appreciation/concern of exposure. But again there seems, at present, no cultural data for this.

One thing to consider is that the toxicity of many fungi might be part of natural section in the early human population, and a driver to maintain cultural memory. One could consider this 'section of smarter humans wth long memories' theory. At this point it is not about fungi 'causing' the enlargement of the human brain 'because' of consumption, but the selection of the stupid ones out, leaving the smarter survivors!

Given the diversity of fungi in the environment, being a very good observor, with a very good memory, will be a real tool in their evolving tool kit.

Driver to maintain cultural memory??

Yes, and I might add a not very insightful point.

We still do this as a basic part of our lives. Nothing very 'wow' about this, sadly it is not always easy I expect.


I was attempting to agree with you, but you took it as an opportunity to spin off into crap.

Sadly too many here, including myself at times, have drifted off into adhominem attacks with no real necessity.

Before you bring up crap such as 'neo and paleo pseudoscience gimmickery', I assume a buzz word/term of your own making, maybe we should atleast look at the 'McKenna' hypothesis, on its own merits.

I would accept that McKenna might have seriously over generalized from his own drug explorations, to the 'history' of human development. Such hypothesis are often attempts to offer the 'single solution, or 'grand theory', and so setting up for the nobel award, but sadly the universe does always offer us this, if at all. We do not allow theists this dishonest attempt, anymore than we should allow McKenna without extream demands for evidence. McKenna is offering nothing more than a weak hypothesis, we need to do our work to honor his attempt with honest critique. You might not 'like' McKenna, but an honest 'scientist' might atleast evaluate his hypothesis in the light of available evidence and sensibility.

So toss out the crap, either your own or McKenna's, and look at his hypothesis.

What errors can you find? What competing hypothesis could be created? What new evidence would be needed? Are there new data sets available, that were unavailable to McKenna at his time of writing?

Do The Work!


'ThinkAtheist' needs better from us!     

Terence McKenna once said, "Lack of brevity if proof of psychosis."

Somewhat of an ironic statement coming from someone who could back you up into a Denny's 15 hours at a stretch with a rap so alarming and appalling that you can only back away in horror and wonder if his head's going to explode.

I'm going to have to agree with James here. He said you may not "like" McKenna, Aker, because you seem to exhibit an obvious partiality. Your diction exemplifies a great disgust met with McKenna's concepts and also might be affecting your judgement towards McKenna's notions. It's this type of denunciation that is riddled in all your paragraphs. I'm going to have to assume that you're the same Akers posting at Reality Sandwich and at "", because you find the same condemnation there. So, all James was asking is instead of digressing into another tirade about Terence McKenna, why don't you try and tackle this hypothesis with a bit more intellectual honesty? Even Heather, it seems, has approached this hypothesis with a bit more honest criticism than she initially had for it. 

And regarding this distinction with the term "tool," I've always heard it used in a metaphorical context when it came to psychedelics. I'm sure in the early shamanistic reilgions, mushrooms weren't used for nutritional purposes, but instead as tools for exploring consciousness.

Not everyone that disagrees on a point is interested in 'aggression'. I am one of these folks. Heather posed an interesting question, of which I have only a passing interest, but of which I have heard of during my readings. I am always interested in ideas to help flesh out my understanding. McKenna' hypothesis seems worthy of airing, but you can disagree. Sadly I still have not read an evaluation based upon 'facts', if available. A tirade does not equal an educated argument, pro/con. I might even be poorly inform about McKenna, consider this your opportunity. Sadly you still might find me to a difficult at times, I do still have a mind, as you.

Lets chill out, please.... 

I thank you for yet one more tirade. To think such would still be acceptable here, amazing.

I will leave it to you to determine if McKenna has any content or not. I find a great deal of very unneeded heat with no light.

You have still offer no honest evaluation of McKenna's claim. I began, but you act as if the 'floor' belongs to only you.

I now wonder if there is more a foot? Do we know each other from another place, or some common interest that is in conflict?

Why the 'heat' from a rather simple hypothesis as McKenna's, which if it is so bad, should offer a nice rebuttal?



I thank Heather for suggesting this conversation subject.

This now sounds more like the tirade from someone just getting off a drug habit. I have no such issue to overcome. If this is the case, I am very sorry to have upset you.

Since McKenna's hypothesis will most likely never get a 'fair hearing' here, I will consider this conversation mostly at an end.

If Heather desires a conversation concerning McKenna's hypothesis, it might be a good idea to MC the conversation so that extreamists do not sabotage the process.





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